Are you left-brained or right-brained?
That was a trick question. Unless you’ve had a hemisphere of your brain removed, the answer is both.
It is true that some of the major functions of the brain are lateralized, or largely localized to one side of the brain –language is a notable example.
The idea that logical people use the left side of their brain more and creative people use the right side more, however, seems to be mostly a popular psychology myth with good sticking power.
In brain scan studies, there aren’t any noticeable differences between people in regard to which side of the brain they use more often. Personality differences between people are due to subtler differences in neurology than can be summed up in a simple dichotomy.
The left-brained or right-brained myth probably sticks around because it’s a plausible sounding explanation that reinforces a distinction that we already tend to make about people. We want an explanation for why some people are logical and other people are creative because we already think that people are either logical or creative.
I don’t know where this idea actually came from, but I see very little evidence for it in the world around me.
Regardless, I hear this distinction reinforced with stereotypes, especially in regards to different career fields. The sciences and the arts are often talked about as though they are opposites of each other.
People in science and technology careers, for instance, are often portrayed as intelligent and logical, while people with careers in art and music are seen as creative and talented.
There are negatively perceived traits that go along with each category as well. The archetypal logical person is a very literal and inflexible Vulcan, whereas the creative person may be viewed as impulsive and their efforts may not be taken seriously as work.
These distinctions completely ignore the people who are both scientists and artists of some kind, but they also fundamentally misunderstand the nature of both science and art.
Science is not just memorizing facts and being studious and “book smart.” It may seem that way in some of the introductory courses, as you have to catch up on basic knowledge and terminology of a field before you can start thinking about problems in a creative way, but that’s essentially the same as having to learn a language before you start composing poetry in that language.
The arts and music are not just unfettered creativity and pure talent. To get really good at these things, an incredible amount of work and discipline is required. It hurts artists when consumers ignore this, because it makes it more difficult for artists to get properly compensated for their services if people think that what they do is effortless.
In order to be truly good at anything, you need to hone both rigor and creativity. Fortunately, these aren’t things that are limited by personality type. These traits naturally work together in well-rounded people.
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